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France approves law requiring coronavirus health pass for restaurants, other venues

Visitors register for coronavirus tests at the Eiffel Tower in Paris on July 21. (Daniel Cole/AP)
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PARIS — French lawmakers early Monday approved a controversial law that will provide vaccinated people with privileged access to restaurants, cafes, intercity transportation and other venues starting in August — a measure that has drawn nationwide protests over the past two weeks.

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Access to venues covered by the law will also be possible with a recent negative coronavirus test or proof of immunity through infection, while anyone who does not meet these qualifications may not legally enter.

French President Emmanuel Macron has said the aim of what the government calls a “health pass” is to drive up vaccination rates, which had begun to plateau in recent weeks.

Even before Parliament passed the new bill this weekend, the changes Macron announced two weeks ago appeared to have a measurable impact on vaccination coverage. Coronavirus vaccine-booking platforms recorded a surge in appointment bookings within hours of the announcement, and the country hit several records for the number of daily vaccinations since then.

On Monday, Macron said on Twitter that 40 million residents — or about 60 percent of the population — have now received at least one vaccine dose. More than 4 million doses have been administered over the past two weeks, he said.

Here are some significant developments:

  • New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, recorded 145 new coronavirus cases Monday as authorities there struggle to curb an outbreak of the more infectious delta variant of the virus. Thousands of people protested lockdown measures in the state capital, Sydney, over the weekend.
  • Beginning Monday, more than 10 million residents of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s largest commercial hub, will be subject to a strict nighttime curfew to help officials battle an unprecedented surge in coronavirus infections.
  • London’s Heathrow Airport Monday called on the British government to reopen travel to vaccinated passengers, citing cumulative pandemic losses of about $4 billion. New coronavirus cases in Britain declined for the fifth straight day Sunday, according to data from Public Health England, following a rapid surge in infections earlier this month that officials blamed on the more contagious delta variant.
  • South Africa has loosened some coronavirus restrictions, lifting a weekday ban on alcohol sales and relaxing curbs on travel between provinces. President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a televised address Sunday that a recent wave of infections appears to have peaked.
  • Top U.S. infectious-disease expert, Anthony S. Fauci, said in an interview Sunday that the United States is headed in the “wrong direction” as coronavirus cases spike among the unvaccinated.

The new rules approved early Monday in France will also make vaccination mandatory for health workers, who risk suspension if they are not inoculated by Sept. 15. The legislation was sent by the government to France’s Constitutional Council later Monday so that it could scrutinize the new law.

Opponents from across the political spectrum have said the law contravenes France’s traditional understanding of liberty and equality. An estimated 160,000 people rallied against the changes in France on Saturday. Far-right leader Marine Le Pen last week called the plan “an attack on freedoms and equality between citizens.”

France was previously one of Europe’s most vaccine-skeptical nations, and the French government was initially criticized for being too cautious in urging residents to get vaccinated as the shots were rolled out beginning late last year.

The recent shift in strategy appears to be driven at least in part by concerns over the highly transmissible delta variant, which has triggered a surge in new cases. France recorded almost twice as many new cases per capita over the past seven days as the United States.

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